February 5, 2019 marks the Chinese New Year and also the start of the Year of the Pig. A variety of different Lunar-themed pieces have been issued by the world’s mints, including both bullion and commemorative coins in silver, gold, and other metals.
February 5, 2019 marks the Chinese New Year, China’s most important traditional festival and also the start of the Year of the Pig, which will run for one year until January 25, 2020. Commonly, referred to as the Spring Festival, the date that the New Year falls on, changes from year to year, because it is determined by the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which is based the position of the sun as well as the phase of the moon. While the Gregorian calendar is used in modern China for day to day life, the Chinese lunisolar calendar still determines festivals and holidays.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar is believed to have begun around 2600 B.C. and is related to the worship of animals in Chinese culture. According to legend, Buddha asked every animal on the planet to comfort him before he departed for the next life. Only twelve animals responded, and to honor their fealty they became the basis for the lunar calendar used in China to this day.
People born in specific Lunar years are believed to have certain personality traits and characteristics that are related to their lunar animal sign, similar to the Western zodiac calendar based on 12 months instead of 12 years
Over the past 40 years, a dazzling array of different Lunar-themed coins have been issued by the world’s mints, including both bullion and commemorative coins in silver, gold, and other metals, from numerous private and national mints.
Some of the mints that produce ongoing Lunar coin programs, include several of the world’s top mints such as the Royal Canadian Mint, the Perth Mint, the People’s Bank of China, the Royal Mint, and so many others, including especially, many countries of the British Commonwealth.
The Perth Mint in particular is known for their Silver Lunar Series and their Gold Lunar Series, both issues are highly praised. The first Lunar Series produced by the Mint commenced in 1996 by commemorating the Rat, and concluded in 2007 by commemorating the Pig, completing the 12 year cycle. This first run of the series was only produced in gold until 1999, when the Perth Mint began being issuing the series in silver as well. Eventually, different denominations, finishes, and varieties were added to the series. The Mint picked the series up again with the new twelve year lunar cycle that began in 2008, with the start of the Perth Mint Lunar Series II that began again, with the Year of the Rat. That series, concludes in 2019 with the Year of the Pig.
World coins based on the Chinese Lunar calendar that depict the 12 animals are extremely popular with collectors not just in China and Asia, where they are frequently given as gifts for the Chinese New Year, but also by people all over the world.
This theme is also the largest ongoing numismatic program on the planet and there are a variety of reasons why such coins are attractive to a wide range of collectors. Some people like to collect coins that depict their own lunar animal, because of its personal connection to them. Lunar Coins are a great way to represent your birth year, especially if you identify with the characteristics attributed to the animal. This also makes lunar coins great options for birthday gifts. Certain animals tend to be more popular in the lunar coin programs, such as dragons and dogs.
Many others collect entire series of all 12 lunar coins issued by one mint or by multiple mints. The coins are also prized because of the huge variety of sizes, shapes, colors, finishes, etc. represented on these coins. Due to the limited nature of the releases of the various series, completing a lunar collection can be a very attainable goal for even the casual collector.
This was expanded upon by the Perth Mint’s Group Manager, Neil Vance, who says of the popularity of the Perth Mint’s lunar program ““There’s a natural fascination with something as unique as the Chinese lunar calendar which dates back for thousands of years. It’s based on a 12-year cycle of the moon with each year named after a different animal. Having 12 coins to collect is a very realistic objective for many collectors who enjoy building a complete collection over time.”
The pig is the 12th animal in the Chinese Lunar calendar. People born in the Year of the Pig think logically and can fix whatever problem they're in. They are honest, loyal, sincere, and generous and are often wealthy. On the other hand, pigs are often naïve, gullible, sluggish, and ill-tempered.
Famous people born in the year of the pig include comedian Lucille Ball, writer Ernest Hemmingway, and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
The Australian Perth Mint’s lunar coins are perhaps the best-known ones and include the popular 1 oz. silver and gold bullion coins with mintage limited respectively to 300,000 and 30,000 that sell-out at the mint quickly. These coins are prized for their legal tender status, guaranteed weight and purity, and beautiful designs.
The reverse of each 2019 silver pig from Perth coin features a representation of a domesticated or pet pig, designed by Aleysha Howarth, along with four piglets, amid stylized foliage. The Chinese character for ‘pig’ and the inscription ‘Year of the Pig’ appear in the design with the Perth Mint’s traditional ‘P’ mintmark. The Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty appears on the obverse. As for the gold pigs from Perth, the reverse of each coin features a representation of a domesticated or pet pig, amid stylized rocks and foliage including a peony flower. The Chinese character for ‘pig’ and the inscription ‘Year of the Pig’ also appear in the design with The Perth Mint’s traditional ‘P’ mintmark. The Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth appears on the obverse.
In addition, the mint also strikes collector versions of these coins such as proofs, colored, gilded, and other varieties that will be released in the coming months. The 3-coin silver proof set with a 2 oz. coin that is only sold in the set, plus the 1 oz. and ½ oz. proof, are one of the most popular items with lunar collectors. In September 2019 the Perth Mint will launch its Year of the Rat 2020 coins, which will be the first of the mint’s Series III Lunar coins, the start of another exciting 12-year cycle.
The Royal Mint’s Lunar bullion series began in 2014, with the Year of the Horse. Known as the Shengxiao Collection, this series commemorates the long standing cultural exchange the United Kingdom has had with China, as well as their being a mixing pot of cultures. Struck in .999 silver and .9999 gold, this series features, unique designs, that honor the “rule” of the respective year’s animal. 2019 marks the sixth release in the Royal Mint’s Lunar bullion series and depicts on its reverse, a sow suckling several little piglets, surrounded by intricate radial lines.
The Royal Canadian Mint began offering their version of Lunar Coins in 1998, with the Year of the Tiger. Today, they offer a wide range of Lunar products, including a lotus shaped coin, which was first released in 2010 and will run until 2021. This year's 2019 Year of the Pig Silver Lunar Proof Lotus shaped coin features a content-looking pig, surrounded by an attractive bough of flowers.
Smaller Mints around the world are also joining in the Numismatic lunar celebration. Rwanda introduced their first Lunar themed coin in 2017 for the Year of the Rooster. Since then, they have continued to release unique, stylized renditions of each year’s ruling animal. Tokelau offers a Mirror Series that features two images of that year’s animal, as if they were staring in a mirror. One half of the coin is a stunningly polished proof finish, the other half is a reverse proof finish.
Celebrated by nearly ¼ of the world’s population, Chinese New Year carries significance far beyond mainland China. Chinese Immigrants, along with the ever-broadening global society brought on by the internet and other mean of communication, have allowed Chinese New Year, and its traditions to emerge in many countries. Almost everyone has heard of Chinese New Year and probably has some associations with it; be it fireworks, giving gifts, or spending time with family. For both those who this celebration has been a lifelong tradition, to those who are interested in learning more about Chinese culture and heritage, this celebration connects people from all around the world through their hopes for what the New Year can bring. Accordingly, the numismatic realm has taken note, and honors both the legacy of Chinese New Year and its far global reach. Mints from Canada to the small island of Tokelau commemorate the start of the New Year, bringing that same cultural exchange to coin collections around the world, while also bringing collectors together to admire and hunt down lunar themed coins.
Author Name: Louis Golino
Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and and other publications. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.